Are you planning to visit Italy this May but you want to see something different? Would you like to visit some unique gardens guided by an expert? Would you like a local guide that shows you places that only Italians know? If your answer is ‘YES!’ you should join me for the garden tour of Royal Palace of Caserta, Sicily and Sardinia.
I am thrilled with this opportunity that travel agency Opulent Journeys has given to me: indeed I am not only happy to share what I know about gardens, but I am also excited to show you where I grew up and all my favourite places. As you can imagine, this trip won’t be only about gardens, monuments and plants, but I would like you to experience the true Italian atmosphere.
The tour will start in Napoli, and from there we will visit the Royal Palace of Caserta, UNESCO heritage listed site and one of the largest palaces of the world. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but maybe you remember this incredible place from the TV series Monty Don’s Italian Gardens, broadcasted by BBC.
From Napoli we will fly to Palermo, in Sicily, where my family comes from. I lived for two and a half years after I graduated in Sardinia and before I moved to Milan. Palermo is a charming city because of its unique mix of Baroque, Norman-Arab and Liberty architecture. It is also fun, noisy, coloured, and full of contrasts.
In Palermo I am working on a couple of surprises. Firstly, I would like to introduce you to a real Princess: Vittoria Alliata di Villafranca. Writer and Italian translator of J.R.R. Tolkien, she lives in a majestic Villa built in the XVIII century where we will have lunch with her.
After a special visit at the Palermo Botanic Gardens guided by its director, I would like you to introduce you to a special friend of mine: Massimiliano Marafon Pecoraro. He is a Researcher at the Department of Historic and Artistic Studies at the University of Palermo. In particular he will share with us everything he knows about two breathtaking monuments: Palazzo Alliata di Pietratagliata a medieval palazzo in the historical centre of the city, and the Palazzina Cinese built in the XIX century and designed in the style of Chinoiserie.
After leaving Palermo we will stop in Agrigento. A thousand words are not enough to describe the beauty of the Temple Valley: one of the largest archaeological sites of the world where Greek temples are nestled in a profusion of olive and almond trees.
Agrigento has something else to offer, a true ‘jewel’: the Kolymbetra garden. In the ancient Greek culture, gardens were a place for cultivation more than for leisure, usually sited out of the city. Next to the Temple Valley, we will explore this garden probably designed by the Greeks in the IV century B.C., where citrus trees grow next to spontaneous plants.
Next stops are Ragusa, Modica and Siracusa. Maybe you’ve heard about them because of the TV show ‘Inspector Montalbano’, broadcasted here in Australia by SBS. If you haven’t, no sweat: we will have a walk through the historical centre of these beautiful Baroque cities that are a UNESCO Heritage listed site.
After this immersion in the Baroque culture, we will spend a bit of time with another friend: Sergio Cumitini, horticulturalist. Not only he will take us to visit the wonderful installations of the Radicepura Garden Festival, but also he’ll share with us some of the most interesting private gardens of Eastern Sicily.
The last destination of our Sicilian tour will be the iconic Taormina, with its Greek-Roman amphitheatre that overlooks Mount Etna. Here you will also discover how the English gardener Florence Trevelyan, ended up in the city in 1884 and realised one of the most outstanding gardens of the city.
From Catania we will fly to Sardinia, where I was born. Differently from Sicily, Sardinia is still wild and untouched, but not less charming. In Cagliari I will introduce you to a friend, Maurizio Usai: he is a talented Landscape Architect that maybe you remember because of this article I wrote for Garden Drum some time ago – Sa Pedro Arrubia: Maurizio Usai’s Garden
Maurizio has designed gardens in Italy, Spain and in the UK, translating the English tradition of the mixed border in the Mediterranean environment. He’s also a rose expert: he will show us his private garden and share with us some of his best tips for growing a lush garden in a dry climate.
Travelling to the North we will have a stop at the pre historic site of Barumini:
“During the late 2nd millennium B.C. in the Bronze Age, a special type of defensive structure known as nuraghi (for which no parallel exists anywhere else in the world) developed on the island of Sardinia. The complex consists of circular defensive towers in the form of truncated cones built of dressed stone, with corbel-vaulted internal: The complex at Barumini, which was extended and reinforced in the first half of the 1st millennium under Carthaginian pressure, is the finest and most complete example of this remarkable form of prehistoric architecture.”
Next to Oristano we will catch up with Leo and Italo who own a nursery specialising in drought tolerant plants; we will then stop in Bosa, a small village on the North West coast for a glass of wine and a good rest.
The route that leads from Bosa to Alghero is stunning: a breathtaking landscape, the sea and the lush Mediterranean vegetation are the ingredients of this magic. After a bit of shopping in Alghero, famous for jewels and coral, I will take you to the outstanding Grotte di Nettuno (Neptune’s Grotto), a stalactite cave near the town.
Another thing that I desperately want to share with you is Stintino, were I spent most of my summer holidays from 1983, and the natural paradise of the Asinara Island, a National Park known for its untouched landscape and its albino donkeys.
We will catch up again with Maurizio in the Eastern part of Sardinia. In Tempio he will show us another beautiful garden he designed, i Fontanili. He will also lead us for a private and exclusive tour of the garden of Villa Certosa in Porto Cervo, former residence of Silvio Berlusconi and one of the most outstanding contemporary Italian Gardens.
I hope that in Olbia, where the tour finishes, you will feel like you have experienced one of the most exciting travels of your life.
For more information and booking, please visit: Sardinia & Sicily: Hidden Gardens, Classical Ruins & Vibrant Culture with Carlo Gabriele